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How To Protect Your Mental Health at University

StudentsTips and AdviceUniversity

It is so easy to shy away, and almost act as though you are undercover, believe me, I have done this time and time again, but there is an incredible freedom, and joy that comes with being your authentic self. 

Be Your Authentic Self!

At school, I often felt like I had to mask many parts of my character and interests because it was not necessarily deemed ‘cool’ to enjoy public speaking or campaigning in your spare time. Comments were often made, and many were judgemental as I actively spoke out about my mental health struggles.

However, when I arrived at university, I made a conscious decision to be my bold and authentic self; with the funky shirts, the pink hair, the bold personality, the love of public speaking and writing, and every other quirk I possess. Initially, I was anxious about expressing myself so openly, but soon I found that I could talk openly about my mental health at university, and it was a place where my authenticity was accepted!

I have the most amazing, encouraging, supportive, and loving university friends, who I am positive will be in my life for many years to come. It is so easy to shy away, and almost act as though you are undercover, believe me, I have done this time and time again, but there is an incredible freedom, and joy that comes with being your authentic self. 

Grab Every Opportunity!

If an opportunity arises, and you want to take it, go for it no matter how much you are doubting yourself.

I reached out to Action Mental Health for the opportunity to do a student placement, and I was delighted when they asked me to become their Youth Engagement Intern to help the organisation set up a youth mental health panel. Of course, I was initially doubting myself, and unsure whether I was capable of fulfilling this role, but it has been one of the best, and most life-changing decisions! I started the role in June 2021, and in October 2021 I applied for a Master's in Psychological Science, transitioning from a BA in English and Politics.

Without pursuing this placement, I would still be doubting whether I should change subjects at this stage of my academic career. I honestly believe everything happens for a reason, and if an opportunity is calling you, make sure you respond with a yes! Taking new opportunities during university is a sure way to Make Yourself Stand Out When You Graduate, and it can definitely help you protect your mental health at university by putting yourself out of your comfort zone.

Learn To Say No and Put Boundaries In Place

All my life, I have been a people pleaser and consequently, I have always struggled to say no and put appropriate boundaries in place. For example, during my first year of university when the pandemic began, I was working at my local hospital, going to online classes and working on assignments, volunteering at my local Foodbank and our hospital’s staff donation hub, and helping to care for my grandfather.

While these are all good things, I eventually reached burnout and had to take time off sick. My mental health at university suffered immensely, and I had months of severe panic attacks and disturbed sleep to the extent that on some days I could not even leave the house. It is an ongoing learning experience, but I am learning how to say no and put boundaries in my life. Now, I have reduced my hours working at the hospital, and I limit my time volunteering during term time.

Self-Care Is a Necessity!

It is a joke within my circle of family and friends that I live my life at 90mph because I am constantly on the go and take very little time to myself.

Losing the structure from school was difficult at the beginning, but university helped me to create my routine which made self-care much easier. This required a lot of discipline and dedication - I had to consistently set aside time in my day to focus on self-care, no matter how busy I was. This is especially difficult when your workplace is short-staffed, you are doing a student work placement, assignments are due, deadlines are coming from every direction, your friends are asking you to come out and socialise, you have a family to care for, and a partner to spend time with, not to mention living through a global pandemic!  

I knew I had to make changes to my lifestyle and routine to avoid another episode of anxiety and burnout, which is why I now spend time each day doing something I enjoy in my own company to decompress, slow down, and protect my mental health at university. Self-care has helped me to learn a lot about myself, reflect on my day and rationalise worries and fears. I am learning to find Ways to Switch Off the Mind and Take a Break; I especially enjoy taking time to walk with my dog Finn on the beach, read books, journal, and listen to music!

Did you find this blog helpful? You might enjoy reading 8 Proven Ways to Look After Your Mental Health at University on the GRB Blog now…

I am Katie Graden Spence, in my final year studying English and Politics at Queen's University. I have received an offer to study my Masters in psychological science next year at Queen's, with the plan to further study a PhD, and become a clinical psychologist for the NHS.

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